The World is Catching Up (2014 World Junior Preview)

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The World U20 tournament is far from the biggest international hockey tournament in the world. It is a tournament that was made to essentially give the young kids a chance at some international experience. For the majority of countries that participate it is another tournament that runs alongside league play and is generally not that important. In Europe it is an entertaining tournament that means very little in the bigger picture of the international hockey world. That is not true everywhere though as anyone who has grown up in Canada knows just how big the World Junior Tournament has become. In Canada the tournament is a Boxing Day tradition as hockey fans all over the country gather around the TV the day after Christmas to watch the young stars face off for the first time on national TV. It is a chance for the nation that considers hockey their game to see what country has the best crop of young players. The tournament would reflect the interest for a long time as the Canadians would take over in 1993. The Canadians would win the gold 5 straight times beginning in 1993 and would do the same from 2005-2009. They are the winningest team in the tournament with 15 Gold Medals, Russia/Soviet Union is next with 13 total gold medals. It was Canada’s tournament for such a long time that it almost always seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they would win while the rest of the teams would play for the other medals. That would change in 2010 though as the tail end of the 2000s would see junior teams take the tournament much more seriously. They would begin to see it as a feeder program for their World Championship and Olympic teams as well as a way for great talent to be recognized by NHL teams. As the younger generation is becoming much more important to the NHL the World Juniors is a great place to see the best young talent from around the world. With this in mind a lot more teams are beginning to take the tournament as serious as the Canadians and thanks to that the tournament is becoming that much better. The Canadians are no longer the dominant team in the tournament and they haven’t won the gold medal in the last four years. Instead the Russians, Americans, and Swedes have all taken home the trophy. The tournament gets better and closer every year as the teams begin to make it a focus of their international year.

As the tournament comes around again the USA is the reigning champion and are making a habit of upsetting the top teams on their home turf. In 2010 the USA would take the title in Canada and last year they would do the same in Russia. They have gone in to their biggest rival’s homes and taken the championship and now they are trying to string two championships together and begin a dominant streak. The USA is a team that came out of nowhere to improve their entire system and are beginning to become serious contenders every single year. Joining them in that category are the usual suspects as Russia and Canada will both be favorites to win this year with very strong teams. For the Russians last year was a missed opportunity as they would host the tournament but would end it as the Bronze Medalists. This is not what they had planned as they were hoping to get the gold at home. Now they are going to Sweden looking to make up for the bronze. The Canadians are almost in a panic because they have not won a gold in the last four years. For Team Canada there is only way that the tournament is a success as no gold medal means failure for the team. They are hoping to end the gold drought this year and start another run as the kings of the World Juniors. Then there are the home favorites in the Swedes who has won a gold and a silver in the last two tournaments and are hoping to be the first team to win at home since Canada in 2009. Their neighbours will try to spoil the party though as the Finnish team are hoping to earn a medal for the first time since 2006. Then there are the outliers who have not risen to the levels of the rest of the teams as Slovakia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Norway, and Germany will all not be expected to win much but any could spring a surprise on one of the top teams. The tournament is once again ready to get underway and unlike most other years it is one of the toughest to predict as any team could go undefeated but could also lose a critical game. There are more teams than ever that have a chance at winning this year and that makes this tournament potentially one of the most entertaining in recent history.

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